Fowler ready to be Cubs' leading man

Even though he's new to the Cubs, Dexter Fowler is glad to be back.

He's glad to be back in the National League after a year in Houston, and he's looking forward to being back in the leadoff spot on a regular basis.

The Cubs obtained Fowler from the Astros on Jan. 19 in a trade that sent third baseman Luis Valbuena and pitcher Dan Straily to Houston.

"The American League was good, but you know the pitchers here, playing in Colorado for five years," Fowler said recently at the Cubs' spring-training complex in Mesa, Arizona. "There is some familiarity here."

Fowler, who turns 29 on March 22, came up with the Rockies in 2008 and was a mainstay at Coors Field from 2009 before being traded to the Astros in December 2013.

He has made 1,832 plate appearances as a leadoff hitter, by far his most in any spot in the batting order. But last year with the Astros he bounced from first to fourth.

If he's the Cubs' leadoff hitter this year - and that's expected to be the case - that will be just fine with Fowler.

"I've embraced it," he said. "I've hit leadoff most of my career. In Houston, it was everywhere. I was hitting third. I was hitting fourth. I was hitting second. I'm excited about it (batting first). There is some comfort there. And being a center fielder, it's home."

The Cubs believe they filled a big need because Fowler gets on base, an area that has been lacking with this organization for years. Last year with Houston, he had an on-base percentage of .375, and he's at .366 for his career.

"You just try to do your job and pass the baton to the next guy, whether it's getting on base, getting a hit, whatever, leaving it in the hands of the next guy," he said. "You just want to have quality at-bats. I think that's huge. It's baseball. You're not going to get a hit every time, not going to get on base every time."

A studious sort, one of the reasons Fowler says he's glad to be back in the NL is familiarity with opposing pitchers.

"That's huge," he said. "Being in a new league (last year), you've got to do a little more homework. Coming back here, you know a lot of the pitchers. You've still got to do your homework, knowing how they pitch. It's about doing your homework and spreading the word to the other guys."

Ready to roll:

The Cubs will open Cactus League play Thursday with a pair of split-squad games. One squad hosts the Athletics at Sloan Park, and another will make the short trip to Scottsdale to play the Giants.

Travis Wood is scheduled to pitch the home game.

Earlier this week, manager Joe Maddon announced that Jon Lester would open the April 5 regular-season opener at Wrigley Field against the Cardinals. Following Lester in the rotation will be Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks.

That leaves Wood battling for the fifth spot with Edwin Jackson, Felix Doubront and Jacob Turner, who is set to pitch Thursday's away game. reported Wednesday that first baseman Anthony Rizzo will bat second against the A's. Rizzo batted third 135 times last year.

"Honestly, I just want to try guys in different slots, especially in a split-squad situation; it's really different," Maddon told reporters. "You'll see them in different spots the whole camp."

The Cubs also will begin their on-field tributes to the late Ernie Banks on Thursday. Banks, a Cubs Hall of Famer, died in January. The Cubs will wear a commemorative No. 14 patch on their home and away jerseys, beginning with Thursday's action. Also Thursday, the Cubs will wear caps with No. 14 on them. Banks' No. 14 is retired by the Cubs.

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Chicago Cubs Dexter Fowler bunts during a spring training baseball practice, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015, in Mesa, Ariz. Associated Press
Chicago Cubsí Dexter Fowler stretches during a spring training baseball workout Sunday, March 1, 2015, in Mesa, Ariz. Associated Press
This is a 2015 photo of Chicago Cubsí Dexter Fowler. This image reflects the Cubs active roster as of Monday, March 2, 2015, when the photo was taken.
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